So far presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Biden and, surprisingly, Rep. Maxine Waters, leader of the House Out of Iraq Caucus, are publicly seeking support for carving Iraq into a northern Kurdistan, a southern Shiite autonomous zone, and a western Sunni region.
So captivated are our decision-makers with proposals to carve up iraq that this issue of bringing our troops home is all but disappearing from official discourse.
Perhaps it is only an accident, but the partition proposal has diverted attention to the Democratic Party's recent consensus in favor of setting deadlines either for withdrawal [Feingold, Kerry] or beginning to withdraw [Reid, Levin, Clinton]. It has given Republican consgressman Christopher Shays, a Democratic target in the November elections, the opportunity to chair C-SPAN forums on how the West should split up Iraq instead of whether he really favors withdrawing American troops.
Galbraith, Les Gelb and other partitionists have a substantive case in addition to the political subtext. Galbraith claims, with considerable evidence, that Iraq is already divided by civil war, and that it cannot be put back together. He is less clear as to whether this results from a deliberate neo-conservative strategy or merely the accidental outcome of a failed occupation.
The partition discussion downplays the fact that it is a menu for continued US war against the Iraq insurgency which spans Sunni nationalists and many Shiite Arabs, like the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, among the most popular leaders in Iraq today. As in Northern Ireland, the occupiers are saying they cannot leave because the natives will kill each other, the perfect formula for permanent American deaths.
The appeal of Galbraith's viewpoint is that it avoids the "cut and run" label while still calling for US troop withdrawals and redeployment to Kurdistan - "over the hill", but able in league with the Kurdish peshmerga to re-invade Anbar province with greater troop numbers and force. A retreat but also a repositioning for the US in a pro-Western Kurdistan.
Galbraith must assume that the US army and Shiite death squads can bludgeon the Sunnis into settling for a Sunni region under Sunni leadership. There is no sign that this military strategy is succeeding, however. Not only has Anbar province slipped under insurgent Sunni control, but it is unlikely that the majority Shiite bloc will ever guarantee enforceable revenue-sharing over oil revenues to the Sunni, or accept the restoration of ex-Baathists in the Sunni region.
There are other problems being hidden from public discussion, such as the inevitability of ethnic cleansing especially of Sunnis all over the country. One million Sunnis live in Basra, which is perceived as a Shiite region. Where will they go? Worse, the Sunnis of Baghdad will have to be forced to uproot themselves and move behind a north-south wall partitioning the whole capital.
Let me be clear. The time may come when the Sunnis agree to a hypothetical US offer for a cease-fire in exchange for an autonomous ethnic enclave represented by nationalists including Baathists and secured by its own armed forces. But now without a longer war on two levels, against the US occupiers and their Shiite and Kurdish allies. There is no light at the end of this tunnel so far. This means American troops will be killed and wounded for purposes that are less and less understood by their families, friends and the American people.
If the withdrawal of American troops is contingent on Iraqis accepting partition, this would give new oxygen to the dying Ameican presence. The current Congressional debate would shift away from bringing the troops home and turn toward the imperial game of how to arrange the ethnic chess board. No one has proposed combining a deadline for US troop withdrawals/redeployment with a plan for achieving partition.
What is the alternative? The best strategy is for the US to declare a plan to withdraw and simultaneously transfer authorization for security and economic reconstruction to the United Nations.